Soper Theatre, Smiths Falls

It was 1914 when local man, Bert Soper, opened the Rideau Theatre on Chambers Street, at the corner of Beckwith, in Smiths Falls.  Stanley McNeill was the first manager.  He was a local lad, son of Harry McNeill and Alice Butler, and he ran the theatre like a well-oiled machine.

Soper 1

Photo: Steven Maddock of Hyfund Studio

In the 1930s, the theater was renamed ‘The Capitol’, and people drove for miles around to come and see ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘King Kong’, and “The Wizard of Oz”.

Harry Jenkins crossing guard

photo: Harry Jenkins was an usher at the Capitol Theatre, and later worked as a crossing guard on Brockville Street in Smiths Falls.  His daughter Phyllis Jenkins Evoy worked at the ticket booth at the Soper Theatre, and Harry’s grandson Gordon Evoy worked as an usher at the Soper Theatre.

A new theater was built in 1949, at 15 Main Street in Smiths Falls.  The new Soper Theatre boasted 964 seats, making it the largest movie theater in Eastern Ontario.

The Soper was managed by Walter Lackenbauer, a man who took his job very seriously.  It was said that Walter was so punctual that you could set your watch when you saw him walking across the bridge, on his way to work each day.

When Walter Lackenbauer retired in 1976, Art White became the Manager of the Soper, and worked in that capacity until 1992, and then Jan Stepniak took over the position.

Walter Lackenbauer

Walter Lackenbauer and his wife Bernadette ‘Bernie’

Another familiar face at the Soper Theatre was Violet Gariepy, a native of Scotland, she worked at the candy counter along with Norma Willoughby, and Jessie Loucks.

This is the clock that hung on the wall in the concession counter at the Soper. *

clock from the Soper

Some of the early films shown at the Soper, were ‘tame’ compared to the movies produced today.  Films like ‘Snow White’, and ‘Old Yellar’ were suitable for the whole family.

Snow white

Old Yeller

One of the most popular movies in the 1950s was “The One That Got Away”, – the story of a German prisoner of war, Franz von Werra, who escaped from a moving train, as it passed through the town of Smiths Falls.

The one that got away

By the time I was old enough to attend a movie, the Soper Theatre was the only place in the area where we could go to see the newest Hollywood films.  The Soper was just around the corner from the Sweet Shop – talk about a great location!

Soper 6 street view

Photo: Steven Maddock of Hyfund Studio

The Ushers who worked at the Soper Theatre might have been the original ‘multi-taskers’, who had a variety of jobs.  These were the ‘boys’ who helped young children to their seats at the Saturday matinees, who shone their flashlights on young lovers in the back row, and did their best to keep the smoking and drinking from getting out of hand.

teens at back necking

The same ushers had to walk back to the green seats, and remind smokers that their policy was cigarettes only, no cigars. They also had to police the drinkers, the kids who liked to sneak in mickey bottles in their jackets and have a few drinks on a Friday night.

smoking in the back

The mickey, invented in Perth, by John McLaren, was just the right size to sneak into the movies!

mickey whiskey

Some of the ushers who worked at The Soper, over the years:  Gordon Evoy, Scott Irvine, Ralph Scott, Grant Dopson, Rob Knapp, Donnie Lackey, Ricky Laming, Tommy Martin, Bert Stranberg, Joe Gallipeau, John Marks, Brian McDougall, and Hugh Finlayson.

The big blockbuster movies in those days were some that we’ll never forget.  According to many of the former staff members at the Soper, these movies were among the ones that brought in the biggest crowds in Smiths Falls:

Seven Brides for Seven brothers

James Bond

James Bond: Goldfinger

Godfather movie poster

No one wanted to swim the year that this one came out –

Jaws movie poster

Smokey and the bandit

close encounters


Star Wars

On the opening day of Jurassic Park, staff members,  like Tammy DeSalvo, dressed up as dinosaurs, much to the delight of local children!

Jurassic Park movie poster

Titanic movie poster

Sometimes we forget that it’s the people we don’t see at the theater, the ones who work behind the scenes, who play some of the most important roles.   Rae Murphy was Projectionist at the Soper Theatre when the building was brand new, in 1949.  The back-up Projectionist was Widge Williams, son of Bill Williams, owner of the Port Elmsley Drive-In Theatre.

Everyone’s favourite place at the Soper Theatre was the candy counter, and along with Violet Gariepy, you could find Gail Preece, along with brother and sister team – Christine and Stephen Harper, and twins David Morris and Stephanie Morris.  David later became a police officer for the Town of Smiths Falls.

Arlene and Violet

Arlene Stafford-Wilson with Violet Gariepy (right) at the book launch, “Lanark County Calling”,at the Book Nook & Other Treasures, Perth, Ontario.


Many of us will never forget our very first movie, and for those of us who grew up in the area, the Soper Theatre was our first experience in a real movie theater.

The very first staff-member we encountered might have been Phyllis Evoy, at the ticket booth, or Violet Gariepy at the candy counter.

Phyllis Evoy

Phyllis (Jenkins) Evoy – worked at the Ticket Booth at the Soper Theatre for many years

We may have noticed a very serious-looking man, Walter Lackenbauer, the Manager, walking around the lobby, making sure that everything was running smoothly.  Maybe we’d catch a glimpse of Rea Murphy, on his way to the projection booth, or one of the helpful Ushers escorting a child, or an elderly person, safely to their seat.

Although most of us have been to more modern, slick, new theaters since our nights at the Soper Theatre,  those special, magical nights of our youth will remain forever in our hearts.

*note – the photo of the red Coca-Cola clock that hung on the wall of the candy counter was provided by Violet Gariepy.   Violet’s husband Raymond became ill, and Jan Stepniak visited Ray in the hospital.  Ray told Jan how much he had always loved the clock from the candy counter.  Jan came to their home later, and presented Ray with the clock.  Ray sinced passed away, and the clock hangs proudly on Violet’s wall, a treasured memory of her time working at this much loved theater.
Photos of the Soper Theatre:   Steven Maddock of Hyfund Studio
For more information on John McLaren of Perth, inventor of the ‘mickey’
John McLaren of Perth, inventor of the mickey


Discover the fascinating people in Smiths Falls who made the magic happen at the Soper Theatre. Learn about the lively staff Christmas parties, find out who went to the Rideau Hotel every night after work and why, and which one of the staff was married to a well-known hockey player. Read about the daily operations, behind-the-scenes at the Soper.  Learn about a controversial court case when a Perth lawyer brings charges against a local film distributor. Meet the people who ran this beloved theater – the managers, the projectionists, the ushers, the candy-counter workers, and the people at the ticket booth, and read their memories and stories of this very special place!  Go behind the scenes at this beloved theater in – “A Night at the Movies: The Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls”, in ‘Lanark County Calling – All Roads Lead Home’.

LC Calling poster without Fall 2018 reference

Available at The Book Nook in Perth:

Spark Books and Curios, in Perth:

Mill Street Books, Almonte, Ontario:


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

9 comments on “Soper Theatre, Smiths Falls

  1. James FERGUSON :: 15 Broadhaven, East Links Road, DUNBAR, East Lothian, SCOTLAND. says:

    How interesting to read all about the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls, and the owners and staff. My oldest sister was Violet Gariepy [nee Ferguson] from Edinburgh, Scotland. She met Raymond Gariepy when he played at the Murrayfield Ice Rink, Edinburgh, as Goaltender for the Edinburgh Royals in the 1950s. My wife, Faye and I have visited Violet and family in Smiths Falls three times and on each occasion Violet said we must visit the theatre, but time ran out and we never did
    manage that experience. Jim and Faye Ferguson, Scotland.

    • Hello Jim and Faye, and thank-you for taking the time to share your comment. It was a special treat for me over the past few months to speak with your sister Violet, and hear about her special memories of the Soper Theatre. She also told us about her days at the Calie Theatre in Edinburgh, when she worked there as a teenager. She’s a special lady, and it was a great pleasure to meet her and spend time chatting with her yesterday.

  2. […] Soper Theatre, Smiths Falls […]

  3. Annie farrow says:

    Brilliant to read the report about the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls ! I am the little sister of Violet and I knew she loved her job there so it’s great to see her name in print and read about the high regard everyone had for her … the clock is new to me …but surely a lovely reminder for all her hard work at the theatre. Thankyou for all that super report!! 👍

    • Thanks so much for stopping by Annie. It was a delight to meet Violet. She was a great help while I was writing the story of the Soper Theatre, and of course she knew everyone who worked there, so she also provided me with many contacts to speak with during the research. She was well loved and respected by all who worked with her, and many remarked that it was like being part of a family, working there.

  4. Joan Kinch says:

    My father was an usher when the theatre was on chambers st many years ago

  5. Phil Brennan says:

    Thank you!. This is a great article. I grew up in Smiths Falls in the 1950’s and saw many movies there (on Saturday afternoons).
    Phil Brennan

  6. Bruce Pettinger says:

    Lots of great memories of Smiths Falls back in the fifties and sixties, my era.

  7. Claudette Deschenes Suffel says:

    My mother also worked at the concession stand in the late fifties, was a treat to go there on Saturdays.

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